CHICAGO -- Abandoned at birth, like so many Chinese baby girls, Chen Guono spent the first eight months of her life in an orphanage in the province of Jiangxi.
Now, her name is Callie Braithwaite. Her father is national sales manager for Panasonic Co.; her mother is a lawyer. Together, they live in a well-appointed home on Chicago's North Side.
"Everything changed for her. Everything got better," Susan Braithwaite said this week as she cuddled Callie, her new daughter, in the family's living room. A giggly child with a broad smile, Callie was dressed in a Disney "Lion King" playsuit.
The change in the girl's name, from a Chinese one that means "Nation's Daughter," as well as the change in her fortunes, came as she was carried off a plane and into a new world May 13. She arrived on a flight that had originated in Hong Kong (with stops in Seoul and Los Angeles) along with three other infants and their new parents, a woman from Wheaton and couples from Forest Park and Elmhurst. All the children had been abandoned in the same southeastern province.
The first week of Callie's life in the United States is a snapshot of what has happened since the Chinese government lifted its moratorium on international adoptions a year ago. In China, a one-family, one-child policy has caused many couples to reject their infant girls and to try for a son.
An estimated 150,000 girls a year are left at train stations, along the roadside or, as in Callie's case, in front of a stranger's home. Countless others are drowned.
Most, according to adoption officials in the United States, are destined to spend their childhood in an orphanage or as $H laborers.
Moreover, the relative ease of adoptions in China has made more American couples turn there.
Since the Chinese government lifted its moratorium, thousands of girls have been adopted by Western parents willing to live with a dearth of information on an adoptee's family or medical background in exchange for a simple legal process.
Indeed, Callie Braithwaite's date of birth remains an educated guess. She and the other adopted infant girls also seemed small and a bit undeveloped for their estimated ages.
Callie weighs 12 pounds, and the muscle tone in her arms is weak.
The children also are unaccustomed to drinking from a bottle; in China, adoption officials said, infants are fed with spoons. And the rural children apparently do not wear diapers.
"There's no birth records, no family medical background. So the medical risks may be higher," said Susan Schroering, the coordinator of inter-country adoptions for the Family Resource Center, a Chicago group that arranged the Braithwaite adoption. "But the legal risks are much lower."
What's more, Chinese officials do not look askance at older couples or single parents, as some U.S. adoption agencies do in winnowing parents from huge pools of applicants.
Ms. Braithwaite and her husband both are 40 or older, as is Joyce Babb of Wheaton, Ill.
"Because the Chinese revere older people in their society, they welcome you as adoptive parents," said Ms. Babb, a clinical social worker. "They seem a lot more concerned about whether you're prepared to be a good parent.
The process is also a relatively quick one. After Erik Skamser and his wife, Cathy Krieger, of Forest Park, decided to adopt through the Family Resource Center's program in China, they got their daughter, Jasmine, in about six months.
Adoption officials here and in China conduct background checks on prospective parents, and they require extensive financial information from them before adoptions are approved. Adopted children leave China as Chinese citizens; their parents must obtain U.S. citizenship for them. The total cost of an adoption: about $20,000, including plane fare, said Mr. Skamser.
All the new parents have pledged to preserve their daughters' Chinese heritage, slim as it is. Ms. Babb, for instance, said she wants to take her daughter to China for her 18th birthday. Mr. Skamser said he and his wife are looking for a Chinese nanny or a day-care center in Chinatown.
"If we could do it," he said, "we'd love for her to grow up bilingual."